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Lincolnshire Police drones promise faster rescues

The force undertook a drone training event last week out in the remote fenlands between Leverton and Old Leake, near Boston and the Wash.

Police from Leicestershire and Derbyshire also joined the exercise along with Paul Stewart of the Hunstanton lifeboat team.

It also featured three mock scenarios involving volunteers from the Independent Advisory Group, who were then found by police using the drones.

The volunteers (11459391)
The volunteers (11459391)

Inspector Ed Delderfield, Lincolnshire police lead on drones, said the scenarios featured someone who was armed with a gun, another had someone at risk of harming themselves and a third involved someone on the run.

The Civil Aviation Authority has changed the rules on the use of drones , allowing their use at distances of up to 500 metres, which can be extended further under exceptional circumstances, such as emergency rescues.

One of the police drones (11465395)
One of the police drones (11465395)

The rural and coastal site was also chosen for the exercise as it was sited away from buildings

, vehicles and air traffic and minimise interference with the drones.

Kevio Pridgen (11459453)
Kevio Pridgen (11459453)

Insp Delderfield says drones promise faster rescues as they can cover a much greater area more quickly.

“We can be on the ground in many cases faster than the helicopter. But this is not a replacement for the helicopter. It’s an additional tool.”

Nicholas Byatt (11459565)
Nicholas Byatt (11459565)

Drones can take pictures and they can also have heat detection equipment for spotting people. One one test, a drone could be seen flying above two tall trees, as it saw one of the actors in their test.

Insp Delderfield says anyone can buy drones but the ones operated by the police have ‘all the bells and whistles’.

Derbyshire Police has a drone costing £20,000, while Lincolnshire Police has two costing £25,000 between them.

Lincolnshire Police obtained its drones two years ago and they have been used in more than 400 incidents.

Police ready to test the drones (11465401)
Police ready to test the drones (11465401)

Challenges include battery life, with them being able to fly for up to 35 minutes.

Drones can fly “really fast” at 35-40km/h and may travel as far as 2km, with 5km the theoretical limit.

“They save much manpower time. If you are at this isolated spot at 2am, you can’t see your face as it is that dark. The drones are able to see individual bunny rabbits. You can see using the drone of the field has anybody in.”

Trisha Newman (11459630)
Trisha Newman (11459630)

Previously, a team of police, Coastguard and others would have to cover the site by walking in a line. Even if police had received location details from a mobile phone signal, this could still be inaccurate, so the use of drone flying above and watching below, helps for a faster find.

“We only have 1,000 officers in total. At 2am we might only have 40. A drone turns one officer into 20. We say drones are good. They get such a bad press, what with Gatwick Airport and their use in snooping, but if we are looking for someone, they are the best.”

Paul Stewart of Hunstanton lifeboat sees drones as the future.

“We had a big case last year at Titchwell Marsh, near Old Hunstanton. This person had been missing for 24 hours. The police and fire brigade put their drones up and they found him in the water in the marsh.”

“We had the Humber helicopter up twice there. Wells launched their lifeboat. This chap was so lucky. It was the drones that found him. It was a great success for the police force.”

Kevin Pridgen of the Lincolnshire Police Independent Advisory Group pretended to be a discharged army officer who had disappeared with a gun.

Kevin from North Kesteven said: “The drones found my vehicle and they widened the search from there and found me. I was found in minutes. Without the drone, it could have taken all afternoon. That was one drone. A policeman could have taken all day.”

Fellow member Nicholas Byatt, also from North Kesteven, was playing a distressed individual who has dumped a car and wandered off aimlessly into some shrubs.

“The really important thing is they can cover the ground. I had a green coat on which is reasonably camouflaged. With binoculars you could not have seen me. The drones have infr-red and can go high and have the ability to see.”

Trisha Newman of North Somercotes is also a member of the Lincolnshire Police Independent Advisory Group.

She said: “I was a casualty in a road accident and in my scenario, I have crashed a car, my passenger is deceased and has fallen out of it. I have wandered away. The first task is to find a vehicle . They know there are two bodies and they have to find me.”Trish hid in a ditch and under a tree, not to be awkward, but to make the exercise realistic.

“From personal experience on being on a search with the police, the use of drones was a helluva lot faster than being on foot.

“From the time they got the word go, it was 15-20 minutes before they identified the car and myself. In both cases, I could see the drone. If I had been a casualty for real, the site of the drone would have been awfully welcome.”

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